If there are any doubts that it’s never too late to learn, just look to the the Aajibaichi Shala, or Grandmothers’ School in India, where around 30 women between the ages of 50 and 90 are learning to read and write for the first time in their lives. The school, which opened in 2016 on International Women’s Day, is a tiny shack festively decorated with flowers and streamers located in Maharashtra, about an hour’s drive from Mumbai.
The women (mostly grandmothers and widows), wearing school uniforms of identical, vibrantly pink saris, meet six days a week for two hours each afternoon between 2:00 and 4:00. Working on old-school chalk tablets (rather than the electronic kind), the enthusiasm and gratitude of the elder students is obvious. But the reality of teaching basic literacy skills to older minds never before exposed to learning in a classroom, can be challenging. Many of the women who grew up in wretched poverty, often going to bed hungry, are now dealing with common issues of aging: weakened memory, difficulty hearing, as well as failing eyesight. Still, these students are eager and determined to succeed; they learn?by reciting letters and numbers in Marathi (the local language), and tracing the large letters in their textbooks or writing them down on their chalkboards.
Besides giving these older women basic literacy skills, many agree that education has offered them a sense of dignity and confidence. One grandmother, Yashoda Kedar who guessed her age at 55 (many women have no birth certificates) has mastered the ability to write her name. “Earlier I used to just put my thumbprint on bank documents. But now I can sign my own name – imagine that!” she told a reporter. “The next time I go to the bank the officials there will be so impressed.”
The literacy rate is rising in India as the country modernizes with 79 percent of males (including those living in rural areas) reading and writing, but the numbers for women, especially elders, remains starkly lower at 59 percent. Although the Grandmothers’ School is the first of its kind in this sprawling country, hopefully its success will encourage other Indian communities to learn the lesson that education can be embraced at any age.
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